Brandon Reid is a 16-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome whose family home is in Sheffield. He was in the news in November when a local paper and then the Daily Mail reported that the local police had turned up and used excessive force to remove him from his home and force him to go back to his care home in Stoke on Trent after he refused to go back after a family visit. A campaign has been launched to “get Brandon home for Christmas” as well as a petition and a Facebook page in which they encourage supporters to email the head of Sheffield children’s services, but the local authorities concerned are refusing to allow him a Christmas trip home, apparently insisting that his mother come to see him instead and stay in a hotel (perhaps because they fear he will refuse to come back, with similar results to what happened in November). However, there are inconsistencies in the family’s story as represented by the two articles about the case that have appeared in the media.
The campaign page claims that Brandon’s social work team are refusing to allow him home as he is “not ready”. There is no explanation as to why, so it is possible that it pertains to behaviour problems that stem from being in an unfamiliar ‘home’, i.e. an institution. It is not unknown for authorities to claim that such behaviour is a reason for keeping someone in the institution (such was argued in the case of Steven Neary, for example), and if this is the case, the family should be arguing this in any care proceedings. Social services are not allowed to give their side of the story, but the police gave a statement that said that threats of violence were made to the police, that all efforts were made to reason with Brandon and his mother but as “a resolution could not be reached […] a decision was made use police protection legislation to place the boy back into the care of Social Services”. They said Brandon had caused minor injuries to police officers. (A video the family has released, and which appeared on YouTube and on the Daily Mail website, showed him walking calmly out of the house accompanied by two policemen.)
The media reports contradict each other regarding how Brandon ended up in care. The local paper, the Star, reported on 14th November that he had been admitted ‘voluntarily’ in May as his sister had just had a baby and there were doubts as to how he would respond to the situation, but as he proved to behave “fine” with the baby and his sister had moved out, the care arrangement was no longer needed. However, the Daily Mail reported a week later that he had in fact been placed in care a year earlier, in May 2015, after his school placement broke down (we are not told how or why, or whether this was a day or boarding school) and his mother began suffering with depression. He was the subject of a section 31 care order as of June 2015, admitted to a home in Manchester, but his mother brought him home as she said he was ill-treated. She claimed the local authority allowed Brandon to live at home with his mother until 8th August 2016, when he was moved to his current placement in Stoke. There are pictures of him on visits out with his family (e.g. to Chester Zoo), and he has posted to Facebook during this period, so the home does not appear to be a secure unit.
This story does not make much sense. A section 31 care order (referring to section 31 of the 1989 Children Act) is not the same as being in care voluntarily; it is a court order given when the court is satisfied that a child is at risk of harm or out of control. He could have been admitted initially voluntarily and the order issued later, of course. Second, it is odd that he would have been allowed to live at home for nearly a year after being withdrawn from care (and surely, he could not have been withdrawn from care unilaterally by the mother if he was under a section 31 order), and then re-admitted unless a new, serious situation had emerged. Care home placements cost money; they would not put someone into a care home in such circumstances just because a new placement had been found. However, if the care order was somehow still in force and had been acted on at the mother’s request because of the sister’s baby, it is no surprise that the authorities are not willing to allow him to just go home to his mother four months later, because if you elbow a disabled child aside for the sake of an able-bodied adult relative, it does give the impression that the disabled child is not your top priority.
The case appears on the surface to have similarities to other cases where autistic people have been kept in hospital or residential care against their will or their families’, although the usual methods for doing this are the Mental Health Act or the Mental Capacity Act. I’m well aware that social workers, doctors and others overstep the mark and, as with the police, a lot of them are ill-trained in dealing with people with autism. However, I’ve previously tried to help someone in a similar position with an autistic daughter in foster care who had an emotive and seemingly consistent story to begin with, yet as more was revealed about the ongoing legal process, it appeared that there was much more to the story than the mother originally let on, and I pulled out (the daughter was not released from care for more than a year after that). I get the impression that Brandon’s case is not as straightforward as the family and their sympathisers are letting on.
Anyway, their campaign to get Brandon home for Christmas has failed. The local authority and the care home should be trying to help the family spend Christmas with Brandon, even if he cannot go home, rather than expecting them to pay hotel bills. This has been a problem for many families of people with autism who are detained or housed a long way from home. But we do not know the full reason why the local authority believe Brandon needs to be in residential care, and the family’s story and the story given in the sympathetic media coverage are inconsistent. I will not be signing their petition and I urge anyone thinking of signing to think very carefully.
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